Iran’s flagship nuclear plant crippled by ‘Israeli sabotage’

Iran’s flagship nuclear plant crippled by ‘Israeli sabotage’
Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. The facility lost power on Sunday. (AP/File)
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Updated 12 April 2021

Iran’s flagship nuclear plant crippled by ‘Israeli sabotage’

Iran’s flagship nuclear plant crippled by ‘Israeli sabotage’
  • Iran calls atomic site blackout Israeli ‘nuclear terrorism’
  • US defense chief in talks to calm unease over revival of Iran nuclear deal

AMMAN, Jordan: Iran’s flagship Natanz nuclear research plant was crippled on Sunday by what was claimed to be an Israeli sabotage cyberattack.

The attack took place a day after Iran launched new advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges at the desert site in the central province of Isfahan.

The plant suffered a catastrophic loss of power in what Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said was an act of “nuclear terrorism.”

The attack was carried out by “opponents of the country’s industrial and political progress, who aim to prevent development of a thriving nuclear industry,” he said.

Iranian officials said no one had been injured in the attack, and there was no leak of radioactive material.

Israeli media said the Mossad spy agency had carried out the cyberattack, and the damage was more extensive than Iranian authorities had admitted.

The Natanz plant was also hit by a fire in July last year, which Iran said was an attempt to sabotage its nuclear program.

The Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to have been developed by the US and Israel, was discovered after it was used to attack Natanz in 2010.

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Iran has also blamed Israel for last year’s killing of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who Western intelligence services believe was the mastermind of a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program.

The new attack on Natanz comes amid efforts by Tehran and Washington to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers after Donald Trump abandoned it three years ago and reimposed sanctions.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Israel on Sunday in an attempt to calm Israeli unease over the revival of the deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Israeli officials have long threatened military action against Iran if they believe diplomacy has failed.

Analysts told Arab News the visit was aimed at helping the US return to the JCPOA. “President Joe Biden is worried that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would like to escalate the situation in the Gulf, with the aim of torpedoing the eventual return to the Iran nuclear deal,” said Lamis Andoni, an analyst in Amman.

Maamoun Abu Nawwar,  a former Jordanian air force general, said: “The fact that the first senior official from the Biden administration to visit Israel is a military man is a clear sign that they are hoping he will address the potential of a dangerous escalation … between Israel and Iran.”

Barak Ravid of the US news website Axios said: “Austin will try to make sure there is a ‘no surprises’ policy when it comes to Iran, and will try to reassure the Israelis about the nuclear talks. The Biden administration wants to make sure tensions in the region do not escalate in a way that sabotages the nuclear talks.”

 

 

DUBAI: Iran on Sunday described a blackout at its underground Natanz atomic facility an act of “nuclear terrorism,” raising regional tensions as world powers and Tehran continue to negotiate over its tattered nuclear deal.
While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, suspicion fell immediately on Israel, where its media nearly uniformly reported a devastating cyberattack orchestrated by the country caused the blackout.
If Israel was responsible, it further heightens tensions between the two nations, already engaged in a shadow conflict across the wider Middle East. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met Sunday with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, has vowed to do everything in his power to stop the nuclear deal.
Details remained few about what happened early Sunday morning at the facility, which initially was described as a blackout caused by the electrical grid feeding its above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the American-educated head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, who once served as the country’s foreign minister, offered what appeared to be the harshest comments of his long career, which included the assassination of nuclear scientists a decade ago. Iran blames Israel for those killings as well.
He pledged to “seriously improve” his nation’s nuclear technology while working to lift international sanctions.
Salehi’s comments to state TV did not explain what happened at the facility, but his words suggested a serious disruption.
“While condemning this desperate move, the Islamic Republic of Iran emphasizes the need for a confrontation by the international bodies and the (International Atomic Energy Agency) against this nuclear terrorism,” Salehi said.
The IAEA, the United Nations’ body that monitors Tehran’s atomic program, earlier said it was aware of media reports about the incident at Natanz and had spoken with Iranian officials about it. The agency did not elaborate.
However, Natanz has been targeted by sabotage in the past. The Stuxnet computer virus, discovered in 2010 and widely believed to be a joint US-Israeli creation, once disrupted and destroyed Iranian centrifuges at Natanz amid an earlier period of Western fears about Tehran’s program.
Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion at its advanced centrifuge assembly plant in July that authorities later described as sabotage. Iran now is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain. Iran also blamed Israel for the November killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier.
Multiple Israeli media outlets reported Sunday that an Israeli cyberattack caused the blackout in Natanz. Public broadcaster Kan said the Mossad was behind the attack. Channel 12 TV cited “experts” as estimating the attack shut down entire sections of the facility.
While the reports offered no sourcing for their information, Israeli media maintains a close relationship with the country’s military and intelligence agencies.
“It’s hard for me to believe it’s a coincidence,” Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies, said of Sunday’s blackout. “If it’s not a coincidence, and that’s a big if, someone is trying to send a message that ‘we can limit Iran’s advance and we have red lines.’”
It also sends a message that Iran’s most sensitive nuclear site is “penetrable,” he added.
Netanyahu later Sunday night toasted his security chiefs, with the head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, at his side on the eve of his country’s Independence Day.
“It is very difficult to explain what we have accomplished,” Netanyahu said of Israel’s history, saying the country had been transformed from a position of weakness into a “world power.”
Israel typically doesn’t discuss operations carried out by its Mossad intelligence agency or specialized military units. In recent weeks, Netanyahu repeatedly has described Iran as the major threat to his country as he struggles to hold onto power after multiple elections and while facing corruption charges.
Speaking at the event Sunday night, Netanyahu urged his security chiefs to “continue in this direction, and to continue to keep the sword of David in your hands,” using an expression referring to Jewish strength.
Meeting with Austin on Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel viewed America as an ally against all threats, including Iran.
“The Tehran of today poses a strategic threat to international security, to the entire Middle East and to the state of Israel,” Gantz said. “And we will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world, of the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region, and protect the state of Israel.”
The Israeli army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, also appeared to reference Iran.
The Israeli military’s “operations in the Middle East are not hidden from the eyes of the enemy,” Kochavi said. “They are watching us, seeing (our) abilities and weighing their steps with caution.”
On Saturday, Iran announced it had launched a chain of 164 IR-6 centrifuges at the plant. Officials also began testing the IR-9 centrifuge, which they say will enrich uranium 50 times faster than Iran’s first-generation centrifuges, the IR-1. The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only IR-1s for enrichment.
Since then-President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran has abandoned all the limits of its uranium stockpile. It now enriches up to 20 percent purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. Iran maintains its atomic program is for peaceful purposes.
The nuclear deal had granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for ensuring its stockpile never swelled to the point of allowing Iran to obtain an atomic bomb if it chose.
On Tuesday, an Iranian cargo ship said to serve as a floating base for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces off the coast of Yemen was struck by an explosion, likely from a limpet mine. Iran has blamed Israel for the blast. That attack escalated a long-running shadow war in Mideast waterways targeting shipping in the region.

Meeting with Austin on Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel viewed America as an ally against all threats, including Iran.
“The Tehran of today poses a strategic threat to international security, to the entire Middle East and to the state of Israel,” Gantz said. “And we will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world, of the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region, and protect the state of Israel.”
The Israeli army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, also appeared to reference Iran.
The Israeli military’s “operations in the Middle East are not hidden from the eyes of the enemy,” Kochavi said. “They are watching us, seeing (our) abilities and weighing their steps with caution.”

(With AP)

 


Iraqi activist’s killing sparks protests against impunity

Iraqi activist’s killing sparks protests against impunity
Updated 18 min 17 sec ago

Iraqi activist’s killing sparks protests against impunity

Iraqi activist’s killing sparks protests against impunity
  • Ihab Al-Wazni, a coordinator of protests in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, was a vocal opponent of corruption
  • He was shot overnight outside his home by men on motorbikes, in an ambush caught on surveillance cameras

KARBALA: A leading Iraqi anti-government activist was killed early Sunday, security sources and activists said, sending supporters of a protest movement onto the streets to demand an end to bloodshed.
Ihab Al-Wazni, a coordinator of protests in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, was a vocal opponent of corruption, the stranglehold of Tehran-linked armed groups and Iran’s influence in Iraq.
He was shot overnight outside his home by men on motorbikes, in an ambush caught on surveillance cameras. His death was confirmed by security forces and activists.
Wazni narrowly escaped death in December 2019, when men on motorbikes used silenced weapons to kill fellow activist Fahem Al-Tai as he was dropping him home in Karbala, where pro-Tehran armed groups are legion.
Both were key figures in a national protest movement that erupted against government corruption and incompetence in Iraq in October 2019.
Around 600 people were killed as a result of their association with that movement — many on the streets during rallies, others targeted on their doorsteps away from the rallies.
Protests broke out in Karbala, Nassiriya and Diwaniya in southern Iraq in reaction to Wazni’s killing, as people called for an end to the bloodshed and to rampant corruption.
In a video recording in the morgue where his body was initially held, a fellow activist made it clear who he and colleagues blamed for the killing.
“It is the Iranian militias who killed Ihab,” said the unnamed activist. “They are going to kill all of us! They threaten us and the government remains silent.”
Police in Karbala said they “will spare no effort” to find “the terrorists” behind Wazni’s killing.
Politicians, including Shiite leader Ammar Al-Haki, deplored the killing and called for justice.
Around 30 activists have died in targeted killings and dozens of others abducted, some detained briefly, since October 2019.
Such targeted killings are normally carried out in the dead of night by men on motorbikes, and nobody claims responsibility.
Activists and the UN repeatedly blame “militias.”
Authorities have consistently failed to identify the perpetrators of these political killings.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi took office a year ago, vowing to rein in rogue factions, fight corruption and roll out long-awaited reforms after years of war and insurgency.
Pro-Iran groups view the premier as being too close to Washington and protesters believe he has failed to deliver on his promises.
“Such crimes against activists in Iraq raise again the question about the real steps of the government regarding accountability for... (those) responsible for crimes” targeting protesters, Ali Bayati, a member of Iraq’s Human Rights Commission, tweeted Sunday.
Wazni had himself challenged Kadhemi in a Facebook post in February, asking rhetorically: “Do you know what is going on? You know that they kidnap and kill — or you live in another country?“


Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts

Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts
Updated 8 min 7 sec ago

Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts

Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts
  • Pope Francis has also called for an end to the violence in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM: Israel “firmly rejects” pressure not to build in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday following spreading international condemnation of planned evictions of Palestinians from homes in the city claimed by Jewish settlers.

"We firmly reject the pressure not to build in Jerusalem. To my regret, this pressure has been increasing of late," Netanyahu said during a televised address ahead of national commemorations of the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.
"I say also to the best of our friends: Jerusalem is Israel's capital and just as every nation builds in its capital and builds up its capital, we also have the right to build in Jerusalem and to build up Jerusalem. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do," Netanyahu said.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis expressed his concern at the unrest in Jerusalem, saying: “Violence only generates violence. Let’s stop these clashes.”
“I pray so that this might be a place of encounter and not violent clashes, a place of prayer and of peace. I invite everyone to seek shared resolutions so that the multireligious identity and multiculture of the holy city might be respected and so that fraternity might prevail,” he said after reciting the Regina Caeli prayer.

Jordan also urged Israel on Sunday to stop what it described as "barbaric" attacks on worshippers in Jerusalem's al Aqsa mosque and said it would step up international pressure.
Jordan, which has custodianship of Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, said Israel should respect worshippers and international law safeguarding Arab rights.
"What the Israeli police and special forces are doing, from violations against the mosque to attacks on worshippers, is barbaric (behaviour) that is rejected and condemned," the government said in a statement.
Frictions have mounted in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, with nightly clashes in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah - a neighbourhood where numerous Palestinian families face eviction.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said the kingdom, which lost East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, would do its utmost to protect rights of Palestinians against ownership claims by Jewish settlers.
"Israel as the occupying force carries responsibility for protecting rights of Palestinians in their homes," Safadi said in comments on state media.

East Jerusalem tensions have spilled over into clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians around al Aqsa, Islam's third-holiest mosque, at the height of the Ramadan fasting month.


Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery
Updated 09 May 2021

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery
  • The fire erupted in a distillation unit due to a leak in a pumping station
  • There was a large fire and blast at Homs in January this year
AMMAN: Syrian authorities are working on extinguishing a fire that erupted in its main Homs refinery in the west of the nation, state media said on Sunday.
The fire erupted in a distillation unit due to a leak in a pumping station, it said without elaborating.
State television showed live footage of fire engulfing parts of the refinery with black smoke plumes in the distance as firefighters tackled the flames.
There was a large fire and blast at Homs in January this year involving a nearby crude oil loading station and dozens of trucks that transport petroleum products across the country.
Both Homs refinery and Banias on the Mediterranean coast have faced supply shortages in recent months due to erratic supplies of Iranian crude oil to the sanctions-hit country that relies mainly on Tehran for its energy needs.
Syria has over the past year two years faced months of gasoline and fuel shortages, forcing it to ration supplies distributed across government-held areas and to apply several rounds of steep price hikes.

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses
Updated 09 May 2021

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses
  • UAE announced 1,735 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of recorded cases to 534,445

DUBAI: The UAE has administered 11,126,889 COVID-19 vaccine doses so far with an additional 78,342 jabs provided to residents overnight, bringing the country’s distribution rate to 112.50 doses per 100 people.

Health officials have embarked on a rapid vaccination campaign to stem the spread of coronavirus, and the country has one of the highest proportions of the population inoculated

The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) said the vaccination program was in “line with plan to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to all members of society and efforts to reach acquired immunity resulting from the vaccination,” a report from state news agency WAM said.

This will help reduce the number of cases and control the COVID-19 virus, the reported added.

Meanwhile, the UAE announced 1,735 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of recorded cases to 534,445, as well as three new deaths overnight.

The number of coronavirus-related fatalities is now at 1,610.

The MoHAP also noted that an additional 1,701 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 514,769.


Algeria remembers victims of French rule

Algeria remembers victims of French rule
Algerian youths pose beneath a street name plaque honouring an Algerian lawyer killed by the French during the 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence in Algiers. (AFP file photo)
Updated 08 May 2021

Algeria remembers victims of French rule

Algeria remembers victims of French rule
  • The crackdown led by French General Raymond Duval left as many as 45,000 dead, according to Algerian official figures

ALGIERS: Algeria on Saturday honored thousands killed by French forces in 1945, as the North African country waits for Paris to apologize for its colonial era crimes.
Pro-independence protests broke out after a rally on May 8, 1945 marking the allied victory over Nazi Germany.
The rioting triggered two weeks of bloody repression in which French troops massacred thousands of mostly unarmed Muslim civilians, a key chapter in Algeria’s long independence struggle.
On Saturday, thousands of people took part in a march of remembrance following the same route through the northeastern city of Setif as the May 8 rally 76 years ago, official media reported.
Led by scouts, participants laid a wreath at a monument to Bouzid Saal, a 22-year-old man shot dead by a French policeman in 1945 for refusing to lower his Algerian flag — the first casualty of the violence.
The crackdown led by French General Raymond Duval left as many as 45,000 dead, according to Algerian official figures.
French historians put the toll at up to 20,000, including 86 European civilians and 16 soldiers killed in revenge attacks.
The killings had a transformative impact on the nascent anti-colonial movement, setting the scene for a full-blown independence war nine years later that finally led to independence in 1962.
Algerian officials have continued to call for a full apology from France for its colonial era policies, and President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has described the 1945 killings as “crimes against humanity.”
Government spokesman Ammar Belhimer repeated that demand on Saturday, calling for “the official, definitive and comprehensive recognition by France of its crimes (along with) repentance and fair compensation.”
He also called for help dealing with the toxic waste left behind by 17 nuclear tests France carried out in the Algerian desert in the 1960s.